Assessment of the Nairobi Conference: a Victory for Women Worldwide
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Assessment of the Nairobi Conference: a Victory for Women Worldwide

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Six American women, who returned last week from the conference in Nairobi, Kenya, ending the official United Nations Decade for Women and from the parallel unofficial gathering of representatives from Non-Governmental Organizations, said here that the deletion of the anti-Zionism clause from the forward looking strategies for women document adopted by the UN conference was a victory for women throughout the world.

“I think it came about because at Nairobi, especially at the unofficial conference, as well as in many ways at the official conference, women showed that they have finally gathered enough strength and self confidence to declare their independence from male political agendas,” Bella Abzug, a former Congresswomen from New York and feminist leader, declared.

Abzug spoke at a press conference last Thursday sponsored by B’nai B’rith Women at its headquarters here led by BBW president Beverly Davis. Also participating were Constant Kreshtool, president of the National Federations of Temple Sisterhoods; Barbara Leslie, UN representative of the National Council of Jewish Women; Selma Wolf, National American Affairs Chairperson of Hadassah; and Betty Friedan, the feminist leader.

“The entire decade (for women) was seriously marred by the introduction of political issues, the most destructive of which was the equating of Zionism with racism by Arab and Soviet bloc nations,” Davis said. “It prevented consensus in Mexico City in 1975 and in Copenhagen in 1980. Against all odds, this ridiculous reference to Zionism as racism was removed from the forward strategies, passed by consensus at the Nairobi conference.”


The women had particular praise for Kenya which, as Abzug noted, wanted to have a successful conference on its home-grounds, and which they credited, along with Egypt, with having the anti-Zionism phrase deleted at the final session.

The women also praised the United States delegation headed by Maureen Reagan for its role in eliminating anti-Zionism from the final document. However, Friedan said the U.S. role was marred by its failure to vote for the resolution against apartheid, which she called “a shame” and “a disgrace.”

Abzug said Jewish organizations should also be commended for the role they played, particularly the pressure they put on the U.S. and other governments. Leslie said she was told that the Jewish women were the best organized group in Nairobi.

Friedan, who attended all three conferences, said she was “outraged” as a woman, a feminist and a Jew by the use at Mexico City and Copenhagen of the “despicable canard” that Zionism is racism not only as a political weapon by the Arabs and the Soviet bloc but as a “red herring” by governments that “did not want the women of the world to get together.” She said this did not happen for the main part at Nairobi because the “women did not let themselves be maneuvered.”

Abzug said she was able to speak to Arab women, including Palestinians, both in formal sessions and informally. She explained to them that she has been a Zionist since the age of 11 because of discrimination against Jews and because Zionism was a movement of self-determination just as the Palestinians and others sought self determination.

Wolf noted that at Copenhagen she had been unable to meet informally with women of other countries but at Nairobi there was a great deal of opportunity for this type of exchange after the more formal debate.


Leslie agreed that women were more willing to listen to each other at Nairobi than at the two former women conferences. “Yes, they attacked one another, they politicized many workshops,” she said. “But it was possible to reason with some of them in a soft-spoken respectful manner, and to agree that women all over the world are involved in trying to gain equality and they have common problems in their own struggle for self-determination.”

Friedan said that while Arab and Soviet bloc nations walked out when the Israeli delegate, Sarah Doron, spoke they were joined by less delegates than at Mexico City and Copenhagen.

She said Egypt, India and most African and Asian nation delegations stayed; and Greek delegates, who had been outside the hall, made a point of returning. Doron received an ovation after her talk. “This was the first evidence that something different was going on here,” Friedan said.

Abzug added that Kenya and many other African nations were “fed up” with the Zionism issue being “the focus instead of the focus on what women’s needs are.”

The women also described how they received a better understanding of the problem of Third World women and how the conference demonstrated the unity of women no matter from where they came.

Kreshtool said her organization participated in helping create a women’s forest in Kenya which is part of a Green Belt Movement modeled after the reforestation program of the Jewish National Fund.


Davis announced that the BBW will spearhead a campaign to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the UN Convention for eliminating discrimination against women which was signed by the U.S. and 76 other countries in 1980 in Copenhagen.

“We will be contacting all the major Jewish organizations in the U.S. to pressure President Reagan and the Senate for ratification of this important convention which calls for equal rights for women, regardless of their marital status in all fields — political, economic, social, cultural and civil,” Davis said.

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